You were going to get around to that next week, right?... join a gym, start drinking smoothies and get a pedicure. Oh, and maybe a massage.
Is that the way to improved self esteem, wellness? Is that self care? What is self care, anyway?
Welcome to my guide to the buzzword, the phenomenon, the grueling practice of self care, or what I like to call stress prevention and stress reduction!
In grad school, we had a class that focused on self care. I began feeling as though all of the time I spent not working, I spent ensuring that I could do that work by caring for myself. If that sounds tedious and exhausting, it was. It was also growthful and even fun sometimes. I ended up writing my thesis on the topic of compassion fatigue and how to prevent it. So here are a few strategies I've picked up in my years as a therapist/social worker that I hope will be helpful for anyone who experiences stress, who cares for others, or who feels drained by helping others.
1. Exercise. Exercise shifts stress from your mind to your body, creates endorphins, a sense of well being and balance. It was rated one of the most helpful strategies for ameliorating stress and compassion fatigue in my study. It also has over 50 health benefits.
2. Sleep. Sleep enough, sleep often. Remove any work related reading from your bedside. Practice good sleep hygiene. Also if you're like me, and you have young kids, enough sleep may not be possible right now. See below for more on finding what actually will work...
3. Self care need not be some added activity. Sometimes it is a shift in perspective. Sometimes it's taking time to eat lunch. Actually just focus on eating while you are eating (i.e. not your email-- I am guilty of this one!) Taking 2 minutes to breathe deeply or going outside to experience fresh air on your face can be part of a self care routine. Saying "no" is part of a self care routine. Setting reasonable expectations of yourself is self care. Setting limits and boundaries--and sticking to them-- can be a very important part of self care.
4. Find a self care routine that works for you and make it a priority. Going to the gym once a week or to that art class every Tuesday may not work or may not be enough. Maybe self care is adjusting your schedule so you can sleep in another 1/2 hour. Or maybe it's getting up 5 minutes earlier to breathe, meditate, or look at the sunrise before embarking on your day.
5. In whatever way is comfortable for you, connect to the divine/the universe/whatever helps you see the biggest picture. Cultivate a creative and/or spiritual practice that works for you. What helps you get a shift in perspective? What helps you realize your struggles are small in comparison, or tap into the mystery and vastness of the cosmos?
6. If you find yourself feeling burnt out or overworked, in addition to setting boundaries, you might try engaging in a fuller, more fulfilling personal life. Pursue interests and passions that are equally important to you as work (if not more so). Spend time with family, however you define that.
7. Did I mention saying no? Most of us are over-scheduled, over-booked and overloaded, in both our personal and professional worlds. Say no to your dance card or your work agenda being too full. Say no to doing too much. Leave work on time if you can. Create a ritual for separating work and home life whether that is washing your hands, changing into comfy pajamas when you get home, or stopping for some time in the park before you get home. Take time off.
8. Finally, self care can be hard work. Not only can counseling be an important part of a self-care regimen, a trusted therapist can help you find self care routines that work for you, and can teach you new strategies to add to your repertoire.